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Shorts 2

https://www.campbellriver.travel/attractions/elk-falls-suspension-bridge/?asset=2491-ig-1687526722274019796

Swinging In The Breeze

by George Opacic

Campbell River. A lovely place to retire.

“First, you have to be able to afford to retire,” mumbles Ian, an almost-retired businessman.

Ian is seated on a lichen-encrusted rock beside the trail that leads to Elk Falls Bridge. The chain-link sides of the suspension bridge still glisten with dew in the morning. Rushing water from the river below provides overpowering music for the idyllic area. Ian closes his eyes as he takes in a deep lungful of pine forest air.

Ian is alerted by scuffling noises from up the trail. He sees a thin eighty-year-old in light shorts, white tee-shirt with a small pack bouncing on his back, using jogging sticks to propel himself toward the bridge and past Ian’s rock. Giving a quick glance in Ian’s direction, without slowing down the jogger holds his sticks up while striding down the bridge’s slope. A lone woman tourist who has been standing quietly in the middle of the bridge looks up in annoyance at the bouncing caused by the jogger. Then the watcher is caught in fascination, seeing the athletic gent, older than the watcher by at least ten years, bearing down on her until he squeezes past and works his wiry legs quickly up the far side to disappear down the path.

The watcher stands with both hands gripping the top of the chain-link barrier, staring at where the jogger had so briefly been.

A large plastic cup of fruit and a muffin are half-consumed on the large rock next to Ian. Absently taking his metal fork in hand, he keeps his eyes on the bridge: the jogger’s bounces have become slow sways; the watcher turns her head to stare back down at the rushing water below the bridge; a raven calls nearby; the watcher shakes her head slightly then takes her blue baseball hat and tosses it into the water.

Without registering what he is actually seeing, Ian continues taking in the scene as the watcher stretches a stiff leg up to try to put it over the chain-link barrier. It won’t quite reach.

Ian suddenly finds himself beside the watcher.

“Hello there.”

The bridge is still bouncing from Ian’s headlong rush.

“Go away.”

Puffing a bit, Ian tries to be nonchalant. “Breathtaking view, isn’t it?”

The watcher lets her inflexible leg back down while holding on tightly because of the bouncing bridge.

“What view?” The watcher drops her gaze. “That water is rushing almost as fast as time.” She shakes her head, “No time left…” She leans against the hard chain-link, wanting to drop over.

Ian touches the watcher’s shoulder. “My name is Ian…”

“Bugger off, Ian.” The watcher continues to press against the metal fencing.

Just wanting to keep talking, Ian searches for something to say. “Can’t bugger off, I’m afraid. Part of the human race… As are you. Have to stick around. Part of the contract.”

The watcher half shakes her head but turns annoyance into a polite retort. “Ian. I’m not with that bunch anymore. Not human. Your contract doesn’t apply to me. Thank you anyway, but… bugger off. Please.”

They stare at each other for a quiet minute. Ian sees a generation of yellow-tinged wrinkles that make up the watcher’s face; hollow eyes that used be blue, perhaps, but are now corroded gun-metal grey; salt-and-pepper hair that is uncombed and lies limply against her shoulders; her clothes have been unwashed for months.

“I’m an addict. Used to be just a drunk. There’s nothing left inside. Nothing to save… Leave me alone and go back to your nice life.”

Still at a loss for words, “I can’t pretend to know how you feel…”

“My god, I hope you never know how I feel, Ian. It would kill you, too.” The watcher turns away to stare at the river below. “Used to have a family, a house. No dog. Wanted one. He didn’t… Had a car accident. Can’t even remember it much. They say I hit someone. I remember a slice of a picture of me hitting the other car after that. Woke up in hospital and they starting stuffing needles into my good arm and leg. It was a good blur after that. For a few hours. Then I cried for more… Kicked me out and said I should see a shrink. And a lawyer. She hated me. Said I killed…”

The watcher’s eyes well up and her face writhes into agony.

“The shrink gave me needles and then pills. They made my mind into a tub of molasses, only not sweet. Just thick and grey. But I needed more. More pills. Then more needles. Then everyone left me.” Her now ugly face turns to Ian. “The human race walked away from me!”

She shakes the chain-link fence, cutting her hand on the sharp edges. She absently licks the blood.

“So, bugger off, Ian.”

Would you?

Shorts 1

What Would You Do?

Following an older minivan down a rough paved road in the northern part of Vancouver Island. We pass endless trees growing close to the road, held away by ditches on either side. The drive is marred by clearcuts and fire-kill that rape the low hills, scarring the land for generations.

The minivan driver’s head can be seen nodding aggressively to heavy metal that could be heard if I left my window open. I keep it closed to shut out that and the motorcycle’s racket from behind me. It has been following on my bumper for an hour, refusing to pass, just droning endlessly.

Heading toward a slight bend in the road, the minivan driver’s nodding has become quiet. He wakes up just in time to lose control as he plummets down the near bank, does a lovely pirouette along the far bank, then rolls back down into the centre of the ditch, bouncing, and finally ending upside-down in the wet weeds.

As I slam to a stop on the narrow shoulder ahead of the minivan, the motorcycle screeches hard behind me and overcontrols, sending that driver into a high flip over his bike which lands him half into the ditch ahead of me.

I get out in a panic and decide to rush over to the motorcyclist. He is lying in a spread-out heap with his neck at a gut-wrenchingly weird angle. Not wanting to move his neck in case it is broken, I figure out how to carefully raise his helmet visor. Blood is dribbling from his mouth into his beard and his eyes are shut. His chest is not moving.

Since the motorcyclist is, at best, beyond my ability to help him, I turn away to slip down the ditch to reach the overturned minivan. Through the cracked windscreen I can see the back of a very corpulent man sprawled out on the inside roof behind the front seats, incongruously collecting things and putting them into a large kitbag.

As he sees me try to open the passenger door he violently waves me away. Confused, I back off. The driver continues, more quickly, to grab small pieces of paper from around him and stuff them into his kitbag. As he rolls over to reach across his bulbous chest, I see blood pouring down the side of his forehead. At this time, his head slumps fully against the floor, with his thick tattooed arm plopping off his chest to slide beside his body.

I grab the door handle and, after a couple hard pulls, yank it open. The strong smell of weed is even more prominent than it was outside. The driver remains still but I am encouraged to hear a low groan.

There are crumpled twenty and fifty dollar bills scattered everywhere inside the minivan. A pistol lies near the driver’s feet. Hairs begin to rise on the back of my neck. I think about just backing away from this scene.

Shaking my head, I take one of the bills and use it to wrap around the barrel of the pistol, tossing it out the door behind me. With several clean tissues I had stuffed into my pocket while getting out of my car, I gently wipe the blood from the driver’s eyes. He opens them and I can see that he is focusing on me. I don’t know why I notice that tissue bits have collected in his stubble.

“Take it easy – are you hurt anywhere else?”

He puts his free hand up to his head. It comes away with blood all over his fat fingers. I give him the wad of tissues. He awkwardly wipes away more blood.

“You should apply pressure to the cut… Hold the tissues tightly against…”

He twists away but then slumps back down, out again.

I take the tissues from his hand to apply gentle pressure to the head wound. A few minutes pass. He rolls his head away from my pressure but I leave the tissues on the cut.

“Don’t pull the tissues off yet. It’ll start bleeding again.”

The driver raises his hand up to the tissues then decides to leave them.

Twisting his head with difficulty, he stares directly at me. “Who are you? You a cop?”

Smiling, I shake my head, “No. I was driving behind you when I saw you roll. It looks like the airbags stopped you from going through the windshield. Are you ok, other than the cut on your forehead?”

The driver thinks for a bit, moving his free arm then his legs. “Help me turn over. I, ah, have a lot of cushioning.”

I pull on his shoulder and hip to get him flat on his back.

“Left arm. Feels… Shit. Something wrong with my wrist.”

He lifts up his left arm and tries to flex his hand. “Goddamnit! Can’t move my hand.” Then he remembers his kitbag and the bills. He grabs my arm in a powerful grip with his right hand. “Put back everything you took! Or I’ll…”

He looks around for his pistol.

Calmly, “Take it easy, friend. I didn’t touch your money. Let me help you outside. Oh! There was a motorcyclist who flipped right after you did. Let me help you out then I’ll see if he’s… He didn’t look good.”

“Dead?”

“Well, his neck looked broken…”

“Good. Leave the fucker there. Was tailing me. Help me get to my knees. Have to…” With that, the driver’s eyes go blank and he slumps back down.

Confused, I feel his grip on me release so I back out of the minivan. The pistol is just outside the door. Making a decision, I take a tissue from my back pocket, pick the pistol up with it, then, still wrapped, I stuff the pistol into my back pocket with other tissues.

Waiting a minute to think, I see the driver wake up once more. He touches the tissues on his wound but leaves them. With enormous effort, he rolls onto his right side then uses his good arm to get to his knees. Ignoring me, the driver once again starts collecting the loose bills around him and pushes them into the kitbag with one arm. It gets overflowing-stuffed. Absently watching the scene, I make up a number, mumbling under my breath, “Two hundred thousand?”

The driver stops and grins at me. “Close. You’re a cop, right? No problem. With Shitface dead, I’ll give you some of this if you drive me to the ferry… No questions. No fuss. Just free money. I can disappear and you can do what you want with… shall we say, ten grand? Ten big ones and all you have to do is drop me off at the ferry. You can be my Uber driver.”

He resumes collecting bills then reaches for another bag. The driver doesn’t raise his head as he adds, “Make up your mind before someone else comes along.”

It is tempting. I pat the pistol in my pocket then shift it, feeling through the cloth, so that the handle is up.

Slyly, “You got the gun. What’s to worry about. Here, take this full bag and zip it for me while I finish off in here.

As he rises to swing the kitbag out awkwardly with his good hand, he hits the ceiling/floor of the minivan. “OW! DAMNIT!”

The tissues fall off his forehead and the cut opens up again. It doesn’t pour out as quickly as before but it still needs to be staunched. With my last few tissues from around the pistol, I reach in to help the driver. He tries to grab my arm again. I back off.

Throwing the tissues at him into the minivan, I back off. “Clean yourself off, this time. If you can’t trust me I guess I’ll have to go report the accident.”

“Wait!” The driver leans onto his left elbow and holds his right hand toward me. More quietly, “Wait a minute. Not in any shape to argue.” He smiles, “And here you are trying to help a fat old accountant while I… Listen. You got all the cards. All I got is some money. You say you’ll help me for twenty thou and that’s the deal.” He bends his thick neck enough to look me in the eye. “What do you say?”

What would YOU do?

(adapted from a narration of an incident by John Wilson)